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The Evolution of the Open Office Concept

Over the past several years, as office rents have been steadily increasing, companies have been looking to save overall operating costs, not just rent. One way to achieve this was to decrease their total occupancy costs by densifying work spaces and moving to the trendy “open office concept.” The open office concept has been all the rage for the past few years with many companies willing to negotiate lease terms and tenant improvement packages to create this open office space.

However, influenced by new research and co-working trends, we anticipate a shift away from a totally open concept to a hybridized version of ‘old meets new.’

Although open-concept office configurations may seem like a good idea, from a cost-saving standpoint, but also from an aesthetic standpoint as well. This configuration creates a space that looks and feels hip and urban-creative which can help attract top millennial talent. However, these configurations are not proving to be as effective for employee productivity and collaboration as originally touted. The newest research is telling us that employees in fact do not necessarily enjoy being shoulder to shoulder with their counterparts.

The open office concept was originally supposed to foster “collaboration” but we are seeing that it may have had the opposite effect; many employees and companies have discovered that an entirely open office yields more noise, distractions and lack of privacy. The Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) study from the University of California at Berkeley found that between 25% and 30% of employees in open-plan offices were dissatisfied with the level of noise in their workplace. This dissatisfaction often leads to employees who are lined up like sardines along massive tables or desks who all have their headphones on in an effort to concentrate. In fact, no one is talking to one another at all, fostering little to no collaboration.

The open office concept that relies on “hotdesking,” which is an extreme version of the open plan where people can sit wherever they want, can also lead to employees feeling like they do not have “ownership” of their space. For example, Cindy loves cats and Terry loves his kids. You know this because they have put up photos and other mementos in their space. An open office concept makes this individualization and personalization harder and can lead to employees feeling undervalued or invisible.

While we don’t foresee the open office concept disappearing entirely, we speculate an optimization of the concept transforming office spaces in 2018. Largely inspired by the success of the co-working office design, this optimized office still has open desk seating but also features more huddle areas, shared conference space, small phonebooth rooms, hoteling or living rooms and other smaller, private collaboration spaces within the office. These spaces give employees a chance to work in an enclosed area which gives much-needed privacy for those having private conversations or working on sensitive material, while the open areas provide a more collaborative place to interact.

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